Meet "The Mentor" - Part II

Meet "The Mentor" - Part II
Bucks' Bogut credits Markovic with career-launching assist
by Truman Reed / special to

Andrew Bogut credits much of his success to his longtime mentor and friend, Sinisa Markovic. (Getty)
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January 23, 2008

MILWAUKEE -- When Sinisa Markovic arrived in Australia back around the turn of the century, his basketball playing career had been ended by injuries sustained in an auto accident. He was looking for something else in life.

That "something" became a career as a trainer -- one who possessed basketball coaching skills.

He was in the right place at the right time -- practically in Andrew Bogut's backyard. And because his rangy new student was so eager to learn and so passionately driven to succeed, they were a perfect match.

Though the Milwaukee Bucks center is just 23 years old, he already possesses one of the strongest off-hands in the NBA, he ranks among the league leaders in charges drawn, and his savvy passing skills rate among the finest at his position. He did not learn those lessons by accident.

"Andrew is not only a quick learner; he wants to work, and he's very ambitious," Markovic said. "He wants to succeed in life, and not necessarily just in the game. He wants to become a person who can contribute to society through many other means besides basketball.

"He's great. I love the guy."

Markovic understood that no matter how capable he was at his new profession, his student had to be willing and committed. He knew right away that Bogut was both.

"The most important thing is it doesn't matter how knowledgeable you are; it's not up to you," Markovic said. "It's up to the person you're working with.

"Players make coaches and coaches make players. But it all depends on the person."

When Sinisa Markovic talks, Bogut listens. And whatever the message happens to be, it has always been constructive.

“He's a basketball-specific trainer,” Bogut said. “He studied the principles of basketball over in Croatia.

“He's different. I don't know if he'll ever be a coach, but as a fitness adviser and shooting coach, he's the best I've ever had."

Under Markovic’s tutelage, Bogut not only dispelled his naysayers, but became the world’s most valuable junior player in 2003.

His emergence earned him a scholarship to the University of Utah, where he became the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2003-04, an Associated Press First-Team All-American in 2004-05 and finally the consensus National Player of the Year in 2005-06.

Last summer was the first one in which Bogut did not compete with the Australian National Team. So as he recovered from the left midfoot sprain that sidelined him for the final 16 games of his second pro season, he and Markovic were able to devote more time to training. And they both used it well.

"This past offseason was one of the rare ones in the past five or six years where he didn't have any commitments, as far as the national team or the draft goes," Markovic said. "Plus he had the injury, so he needed time to heal and rest. That helped him. We set up a program after he came back 'Down Under,' and he stuck to it.

"He has to stay until his work is done. That's where my education and experience and his dedication comes into the equation. I don't necessarily push him to do stuff just for the sake of doing it; it has to be methodically done."

Trainer and trainee worked on everything from strength and conditioning to basketball fundamentals, all within a new training facility that Bogut had built in Australia.

"Andrew opened it for himself for the moment," Markovic said. "It's still in the making. Perhaps someday he'll open it to the public. That remains to be seen.

"We use the facility for personal use. It's coming along nicely, and it's a nice thing to have. You don't have to depend on anyone else for anything. We go in and do what we have to do and walk out. That's what it's all about."

The summer regimen brought a welcome change, Bogut said.

"Partly because of my injury, I took off until about mid-June,” he said. “Then I started just doing weights. I started doing more yoga, stretching and stuff. As I went on, I started doing about 45 minutes of weights.

“Once I started on court, the first day I was only out there about 15 minutes; the second week, about 30, then 45. Once we got back to the preseason, I was up to about two hours. We went in the morning and at night. We lifted in the morning and then shot after that, and then in the afternoon, we did conditioning work."

Bogut and Markovic covered a lot of ground over the summer. One of the areas of focus was devising a new free-throw shooting technique. Bogut's stroke is much more fluid than it was a year ago, but both teacher and pupil still consider it a work in progress.

"That was something we tried to change," Markovic said. "You could've seen a glimpse of it last year. I think this year it's going to get better. It's one of the things he wants to work on. It's not something that you do overnight. It doesn't come easily. It can take years to do.

"For him, what is important is to balance his body and have a strong mind. He's really working on it. We all have ups and downs. That's the way we are as human beings."

At last check, Bogut’s January free-throw percentage was up nearly 16 percent from his December clip.

Markovic, who has flown from Australia to Milwaukee twice this season to mentor his pupil and friend, knows that Bogut will not rest on any of his accomplishments.

He is bound and determined to become the best basketball player he can be, and willing to do whatever that requires. This motivation separates him from many of his NBA contemporaries.

Bogut has credited his upbringing and his inner drive for this relentlessness. And he raised the bar for himself last summer.

“Basketball's my full-time job, so I put in a lot of work over the summer, trying to get better fundamentally,” he said. “I think I'm shooting the ball much better, and I won't be turning down jump shots like I have at times in the past. And I think I've been more of a leader.

“The last few years have been a big adjustment for me, learning the NBA, and I've been under a lot of pressure. This is my third year, so I can just start playing basketball, and the people I have around me are going to help me, too."

Though Bogut has naturally liked what he has seen on the stat sheets lately, he does not set statistical goals for himself.

“My first goal is to win games,” he said. “My second goal is just to improve. I'm not going to say I'm going to average 20 and 10; I just want to be consistent.

"I don't think it's very smart or very fair to your teammates to say you want to average 20 and 10; I think that's selfish."

Markovic has grown accustomed to hearing such conviction from Bogut, because it has been consistent.

"I think that shows that Andrew wants to earn respect from his coaches and other players,” Markovic said. “So far, he hasn't done too bad. He's still young, and there's a lot ahead of him. Time is on his side.

"Hopefully he'll stay injury-free. He was cut short last year; the whole team was. That's been well-publicized. But the greatest thing about any person is how you bounce back from a bad experience.

“I think he's improving from game to game, but he has a ways to go to get where he wants to be. There's room for improvement in his game."

Markovic knows Bogut realizes that, and that he is willing to pay whatever price it takes to achieve it.

"He'll do whatever it takes," Markovic said. "He had food poisoning in Cleveland earlier this season. He was in bed and throwing up the next day. But he wanted to come back and play in the next game against L.A.

"If he had broken a finger or a leg, he would still come and try to play. That's part of his character."

Where Andrew Bogut is concerned, you will not find more telling testimony. Nor a more qualified witness.